EU Long-term vision for rural areas

EESC opinion: EU Long-term vision for rural areas

Key points

  • The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) broadly welcomes the European Commission's long-term vision for rural areas. Proposals for an Action Plan, including a Rural Pact for engaging actors at EU, national, regional and local levels to support the vision, are also welcomed, as are those for the establishment of a Rural Observatory and a rural proofing mechanism.
  • However, it is unclear what the implications of the design and content of the Commission's new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and CAP strategic plans for each Member State will be for the long-term vision, and how the Commission should ensure consistency and added value between the CAP and other policies.
  • The EESC endorses the Action Plan's priorities of becoming "stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous". The EESC considers that prosperity, defined as a socially and environmentally sustainable way of living, must be the aim for all citizens, wherever they live. If the Action Plan is delivered, there will be real grounds for an optimistic, confident future for rural Europe.
  • The Commission commits to delivering through the Rural Pact and the Rural Action Plan; however, so much depends on having the buy-in of all Member States, regions and local communities. The EESC considers that the Council of Ministers, each Council presidency, the European Parliament, the Committee of Regions (CoR) and the EESC itself all have roles to play, as do civil society organisations and networks, in order to deliver on the vision. The key to delivering the vision is having a fully-funded Action Plan with clear targets and dates for transparent measurement.
  • The EESC further welcomes the strengthened rural proofing policy and the establishment of a transparent Observatory for monitoring progress. Sharing of information and dialogue with social and civil society partners is essential. The EESC is willing to provide support for this work, for example by contributing to the work of the ENRD's new Thematic Group on Rural Proofing.
  • The EESC believes that more ongoing engagement with and empowerment for local rural-urban participative organisations and civil society organisations is needed for the vision to be fully understood and inclusive. The European Rural Parliament and other existing networks, as well as the current Conference on the Future of Europe, should play an important role in providing local community views.
  • The EESC considers that the Commission's rural network and civil dialogue groups, led by various DGs, need to foster two-way, transparent reporting procedures. The EESC also believes that, while appreciating the commitments to rural proofing in the Horizon Research Programme, more Commission departments should demonstrate their holistic commitment to the vision. In particular, rural proofing should be extended to include Creative Europe and the Erasmus + Programme.
  • The EESC believes that the Rural Pact requires the Commission to create a governance model that includes local governments as well as local businesses, both private and not-for-profit, working with local democratic and social partner structures to ensure that local voices are heard and that the long-term vision can be successfully implemented. The Pact should learn from the experience with the best practices of LEADER and CLLD, and each EU Council presidency should promote the Pact concept across the EU. The Commission and the Member States should be active facilitators and funders of pilot projects.
  • Common priorities should be designed using bottom-up and data-based methods. A reappraisal of the pandemic's effect on the Action Plan should be carried out, looking at the impact of increased demand for rural housing, new business space in villages, better public services, accommodating more travel into rural areas and greater demand for recreational, health-related, green and cultural tourism.
  • The development of a charter of rural/urban rights and responsibilities may further help citizens understand how their ambitions for well-being can be realised and inspire them to act, while the Pillar of Social Rights must be a guide for all actions.